Dolliver Memorial State Park is located in west central Iowa, just southeast of Fort Dodge.
I ventured out that way in the spring of 2017, somewhat reluctantly to be honest. Mostly due to the drive time versus hike length. It was 5 hours round trip, for an estimated 5 to 6 mile hike. Fortunately Dolliver was a very pleasant surprise, well worth the drive.
When I first arrived to the park I was surprised that it appeared to sit in a canyon and reminded me of driving through some of my favorite northeast Iowa parks. I parked at the southern entrance (orange star) and hiked in a clockwise direction.
I put my camcorder on the charger the night before, but it didn’t actually charge. However, I did just happen to purchase a GoPro shortly before the hike, so this park became it’s first test to help salvage the YouTube video.
Throughout the park the trails were well worn and easy to follow. The Copperas Trail is an interpretive trail with some high quality signage. That was my first indication that this park is well taken care of.
About halfway down this trail is where I found my first highlight (yellow star). There was an old moss covered stone stair heading up the bluff. The craftsmanship was very reminiscent of the style of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that you find in our older parks.
Once I got home I researched the park and found that Dolliver is actually our third state park after Backbone and Ledges. It was dedicated in 1925, but the interesting part of that is the park was basically formed on a hoax. In 1915 a young girl found a tablet on the grounds that was written in Latin. It stated that explorers from France laid claim to the area in 1750, with a reference to Father Louis Hennepin. Due to the fact it could change Iowa’s history, the tablet brought in researchers. It was quickly found to be fake due to the poorly written Latin, and the fact that Father Hennepin died in 1706. Soon after two local boys confessed to the hoax, saying they planted the tablet in 1913 as a prank. However, the hoax brought in Edgar Harlan as a researcher, and he fell in love with the area and helped put everything in place to preserve the area as our third state park. Some fun history for you.
Shortly after that the CCC arrived and from 1933-1935 they helped build a lot of the infrastructure of the park.
The Copperas Trail followed the bluff until it met up with the Central Trail that runs a big loop around the center of the park. You step down into a valley before climbing to the next bluff to continue on. The Central Trail is where I met most of the curious inhabitants of the park. The majority played shy, but I got some shots of a couple.
Cheryl loves her bridges, so I always look out for some good ones to show her. The best bridge in the park was right before Central turned into the Boneyard Trail. You approach it from above, and the scene immediately jumped out as something I wanted to capture. I need to return and capture it again in various seasons (and with my upgraded experience).
What I didn’t know at the time, was this was going to be the beginning of the best part of my hike.
As I rounded the top of Boneyard Trail, I saw a canyon that I wasn’t expecting to see (green star). It really intrigued me and I found my way down into it. I spent a lot of time farting around and exploring. The colors were great with a mix of orange rock covered in bold green moss. The creek running through it just added to the vibe.
When I was researching for the CCC connection I found that there was quite a lot of significance to this canyon. It is called Boneyard Hollow because they found a large quantity of bison bones throughout. It is believed that ancient Native Americans would either stampede herds of bison over the edge, or they were herded into the canyon from the nearby river where they were slaughtered and processed.
Eventually I had to move on and leave the canyon behind. As soon as you leave the canyon you come to the River Trail. The trail is super short at barely a half mile. Mostly it just gives you a break from the road walk down to Indian Trail.
The entrance to Indian Trail was a little further than I realized, leaving me to wonder if it was still maintained, or had gone the way of neglect that you sometimes find of trails that aren’t part of the main segment. Eventually the trail-head jumped out at me in the middle of a nice day use area (blue star). There was a nice little playground space with a picnic area, and it looked as though they may have been preparing to add more. The Indian Trail actually started here on a bridge that crossed the stream heading to the Des Moines River. While on the bridge you get a nice view of the little dam they have there.
Here is where the fun “stopped.” If you notice in the picture, the left side of it is the beginning of a bluff. That is the direction you are walking to get to Indian Trail… this bluff required switchbacks… and benches… several. Tired. Good view though.
Up on top of the bluff I came across a couple frog saturated ponds, before descending back down to the car. That is one thing about Dolliver, there was no lack of water.
Overall, Dolliver was a highly enjoyable hike that I can’t wait to visit again. It is one of those nice hidden gems that doesn’t get talked about enough. If you are looking to head out that way, my only recommendation is to know your fitness level. The climbs can be steep, but they aren’t mountains by any means. Most of them are just punchy little climbs, followed by some flat walking.
One thing you have to do is the Boneyard Trail. Just be prepared to have wet feet on a heavy rain year if you decide to venture off-trail any.
Given the elevation changes, and that it is 5 to 6 miles, I would also suggest to bring a snack along in case you get a little hungry. At a casual meander, it should take you around 3 hours to hike the full length of the park. As always, make sure to bring water and a map of some sort to at least know where you are. It is a series of canyons, which typically means reduced cell service if you are planning on using that.
I hope you find yourself enjoying Dolliver as much as I did!
Now get out there, and go for a walk!